The Newcastle Jets started off a string of friendly fixtures in Spain with a promising win over Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai FC.
Playing just outside Alicante, the Jets fielded a strong starting XI to get things underway, with Dimi Petratos donning the red and blue for the first time since returning from the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Glen Moss started between the sticks, with Jack Duncan having departed the club following his transfer to Al-Qadsiah.
Despite the lion’s share of chances in the opening quarter, it would be Al-Ahli who would open the scoring, with a strike from the top of the area – just evading an outstretched Glen Moss.
Matt Ridenton and Jason Hoffman had chances from close range to equalise, but Al-Ahli’s keeper was up to task, maintaining his side’s slender advantage.
Roy O’Donovan also went close after a probing run to the by-line and a cutback from Daniel Georgievski, but the Al-Ahli defence was able to scramble to deny the Irishman.
Jason Hoffman would continue his impressive run of goals, scoring another in the 40th minute. Some lovely service from Steven Ugarkovic opened up the play, with an impeccably timed run from Hoffman giving the Jets the equaliser.
Merrick rang in the changes at half time with Kosta Petratos, Angus Thurgate, Joe Champness, Pat Langlois and Ivan Vujica joining the play.
The Jets boss was looking to share the minutes around his squad and build their conditioning in pre-season, with the squad also training the morning of the game.
Angus Thurgate was busy in the front third, while Joe Champness also proved dangerous in attacking areas.
After a couple of missed opportunities, Kosta Petratos would score the eventual winner, courtesy of a ball squared in from the edge of the area – his strike from close range deflected off a defender and into the back of the net.
The final quarter of the match signalled the return of Ronny Vargas, who had recently returned to training following the removal of a pin from his ankle in the off-season.
It was a solid 20-minute hit out for the Venezuelan, as he almost turned on a goal for Joe Champness in the closing stages.
It was a hard-fought 2-1 win for Merrick’s men, who will now face Saudi Arabia’s Al-Fayha FC on Wednesday at the Pinatar Arena Football Centre